On Twitter the other day someone linked to an excellent blog post about how writing is a business and how that should always be remembered. I can’t–of course–find the link now, but parts of it matched up with a post I wrote awhile back, and there was a comment that caught my eye, talking about how to handle rejection. I’ve received two rejections this week, and I know I tweeted about at least one of them.
I always mention my rejections, but I don’t go into detail about them. There’s a reason for both of these things. I mention my rejections because rejection is about 95% of the business. I haven’t gotten an acceptance note since May. My overall average for acceptance on Duotrope is 5.88%. I am doing slightly better than a few people I know and doing slightly worse than I was six months ago when I was at about 7%. Not talking about rejections as a writer would be like not talking about flat tires as a tow truck driver; they are an expected part of the job. They are, in fact, sort of boring after awhile, but I mention every rejection I get. I don’t do it because I think it’s fascinating but because I want to make my work as a writer as transparent as possible. I think our industry is incredibly romanticized and part of that is due to the fact that most writers don’t like to admit their acceptance/rejection ratio. I own up to mine in hopes of shedding some much-needed light on what it takes to be a writer. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Writing is more than art. Writing is work, and a good chunk of that work (as I detailed here) goes into waiting to find out if you’re in or not. Pretending like you weren’t waiting to hear back and pretending like it doesn’t matter what you heard back is bunk. You are waiting, and it does matter. An acceptance means you can take a breath and let someone else take over a bit of the work in terms of promoting you. A rejection means you have to start poking for flaws in your work and finding a new market. One takes work off your hands, and the other gives you more work to do, and writers seem deathly afraid to admit that they’ve had a rejection, let alone the work that follows to get that story/poem/what have you out again.
So, I mention my rejections because they are part of my job, but I don’t make any guesses to why I was rejected, and there’s a good reason for that: I don’t know. I have had a single market that sent back notes with my piece, and even from their notes I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why I was turned down. Four editors sent notes, and every single one of them had different notes. If they’d all said the same thing, I could have concluded that was why the story was rejected, but they all had different notes, so I have no idea what the dealbreaker was.
That one market aside, I have never gotten notes for a rejected piece. In fact, I’ve never even gotten a personalized rejection. Every rejection I’ve gotten has been the very standard, “No, thank you. Best of luck,” rejection that is the staple in every market. While I certainly take time in the post-rejection editing process to guess at what didn’t work, I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t like my characters. Maybe they didn’t like my title. Maybe they had a dozen stories similar to mine. Maybe they had no stories similar to mine. Maybe they want someone with a bigger following. Maybe they want someone who’s never published a thing. I could make this list for hours, but it’s pointless. I don’t know why I get rejected, so I don’t make guesses. Making guesses wastes time I could be using to edit and find new markets and write new stories. It’s an empty activity of useless hypothetical situations.
Here’s what I know: I write. I edit. I submit. Occasionally, I get a piece accepted. The mass majority of the time, I get rejected. I have two options in this scenario: I can edit my work and try again, or I can sit and twiddle my thumbs and think a series of useless thoughts that won’t actually lead to any answers. One of these options keeps me in the game, the other keeps me out of it. I have two pieces out for consideration, one piece recently self-published, a series of tiny poems to combine into something coherent, a half-dozen short story ideas to work out, the first seven chapters of a novel to continue on, and the first 2700 words of a novel that was supposed to be a short story. Guess which option I choose.